Tuesday, November 29, 2011

First dinner in LA

When we arrived at our cousins' home in Los Angeles, our other cousins were already there. It was already early evening and it was decided that we would be going out for dinner. Cousin Jean suggested we go to this place called The Boiling Crab in Korea Town along Wilshire Ave. It was only a few minutes drive from the house and our cousins agreed the food was good. Kuya Boy was even joking that his only apprehension is that he won't be able to eat immediately after alluding to the restaurant's name.

Arriving at the restaurant, we discovered a long line of customers waiting to be seated at the restaurant. The Clairvoyant and her cousins already had our group listed and we were something like 10th in line. We had to wait to be seated as we saw the restaurant was packed. Their patrons were a good mix of families and people of all ages who feasted on their seafood offerings. Crab and shrimp were definitely on top of most orders.

We ordered one cup of rice each and were surprised to get a pint each. Mental note: Is everything super-sized here? That's a softdrink (we ordered Cokes and Raspberry iced teas) just between two pints of rice, and it's refillable.

Our order of chicken tenders arrived on top of a very generous serving of french fries. We were provided with plastic bibs to protect clothing against sprinkles and splashes from the scrumptious food.

The main feature of our dinner was what they called "The Whole Shebang." This consisted mainly of prawn and shrimp (more sugpo rather than hipon) and you had no choice but to use your hands. Otherwise, you won't get to maximize enjoyment of the meal.

We also ordered gumbo without rice and sweet potato fries but I wasn't able to take photos of these after I had my hands (and mouth) full of the delicious food that was laid out on our table.The Boiling Crab is definitely a great find and value for money. Be warned though that its popularity generates long queues. But the wait is really worth it. Also, you might want to bring in more family and friends in order to enjoy the generous servings of the food. Eating alone or as a couple would definitely be bitin.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Wine Tasting Castello di Amorosa

I was quite curious when our friends mentioned we were going to a castle for some wine tasting. We traveled to Castello di Amorosa. It was indeed a castle and quite a popular destination for wine tasting in Napa Valley in part probably because of the tremendous photo ops. We purchased our tickets for the entrance that included a short tour and the wine tasting.

There were six wines on display and each one's characteristics were explained to us by our host. 
Our host, Mr. Constanza, was very kind and entertaining. We ended up tasting eight bottles instead of the six visitors were supposed to sample. 
The wines were perfect with the dark chocolate with sea salt. The paper on the counter are our rating and ordering slips. Based on what we had, the Clairvoyant and I got 2 bottles of wine that we brought back to Manila.
Sheep roaming around the castle grounds.
Even without a DSLR, one is assured of a picturesque shot of the countryside

We ended up purchasing two bottles of wine - a bottle of their 2010 Gewurztraminer Dry (white wine) and one of their 2010 Gewurztraminer Late Harvest, which I learned later to be related to the Australian Botrytis Semillon - "noble rot" (Noble One and Wolf Blass have these) that we usually enjoy after dinner while in Singapore and purchase from Changi where it is usually cheaper.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Buffet brunch at Brix

The first Sunday in our vacation took us to Napa Valley. The trip was already planned ahead of our flight to San Francisco as the Clairvoyant was already in contact with our friends, many of whom drove from as far as Folsom and Sacramento for the get-together. Our first stop at Napa was at the Brix Restaurant and Gardens where friends made reservations for our group. The reservations made sense when we overheard the restaurant staff telling a walk-in group that they had to wait until 1:00 PM for a table. It was only 11:00 AM on our watches and we were hungry so we decided to order our drinks while the others surveyed the buffet.

The entrance to the restaurant featured a display window of products produced by the vineyard and farms. There is also a gigantic pumpkin on view that is quite popular with guests.

Yup, that's a real pumpkin sitting just next to the restaurant entrance.

The buffet brunch at Brix is highly recommended and our friends usually come here when they're in Napa.

For starters I had salad, dried fruit, freshly baked bread cold cuts with some cheese and spiced almonds. I had some "home-made mustard" to go with the cold cuts.

That prepared us for the shrimps, salmon sashimi, fresh oysters, and pilaf (this is actually the Clairvoyant's plate) that we washed down with water, fresh juice or coffee

Of course, there's bacon, pancakes - the old reliables

The buffet brunch presents terrific value for money considering the delightful food, the variety offered and of course, the ambiance of the restaurant. It was at the same time homey and classy, which I felt appealed to its patrons.

Fellow "brunchers" and one of the restaurant staff

A stolen shot of the oyster, shrimp and sashimi bar. That's our friend Norie preparing her camera for get-together photos while we waited for the others who went ahead to get food.

We had a wonderful time at Brix and the food is just part of the experience. The best part were the stories and reminiscings about college life and things in general. It was a rare get-together that took some time organizing and the anticipation prior to the trip added to the excitement, not to mention eagerness for the fellowship that day.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sushi, soba and teriyaki in SanFo

After going around downtown San Francisco, the Clairvoyant and I decided to try the highly recommended Japanese restaurant near our hotel. Sanraku is just a few meters and practically next door from our hotel building along Sutter Street. Based on the what we have seen the times we passed by the restaurant to and from downtown, the restaurant was full during dinner and there was always a line for customers waiting for seats. When we did try the restaurant, we made sure it was for early dinner (around 6:30 PM).

Sashimi and salad - the sashimi was the chef's choice and included two generous slices of tuna and two of the fish we call tanguige back home. The sashimi just melts in your mouth and probably near the top of a list of sashimi I've tried since my years when I was a graduate student in Japan.

Chicken teriyaki - the teriyaki serving was quite generous and was expected considering we were in the US. It came with a side of steamed carrots and broccoli. We eventually had the teriyaki boxed and we ate the leftovers for breakfast the following morning.

Tempura - that went with my order of soba was just right and tasted authentic (as if I were eating in a good restaurant in Tokyo).

Soba - my noodles again were just right and I could take them immediately. In other restaurants, one would have to wait a while for the soup to simmer down. Otherwise, you'll get scalded by the soup.

Overall, the food was great and had good value for money. The service was great, too, as the staff were very attentive and did not rush customers despite the long line outside the restaurant. If not for our effort to eat at different restaurants in San Francisco, we would probably and definitely be back at Sanraku again for some Japanese comfort food.

Burger dinner

On our first night in San Francisco, we decided to take up the recommendation of our hotel's concierge to try the burgers at Pearl's Deluxe. The small resto is just a short walk from where we are staying but it was not your regular fast food joint so our concierge suggested that we call them in advance to make an advance order and for us to just pick it up. The Clairvoyant made a call with the number provided to us by the hotel (they actually gave us a list of recommended restaurants in the area with the contact numbers and indicating in dollar signs how expensive the food will be in those restos). Since we didn't know the menu, we had to ask Pearl's what cheeseburgers they had and ended up ordering one with cheddar and another with Jack's. We also asked for an order of large fries and upon pick-up, got 2 bottles of Vitamin Water.

Cheese burgers, large fries and bottles of Vitamin Water - our first meal on our first trip together in the US. Notice the paper containers used for the take out meal? These probably reflect the awareness of people here regarding waste.

Another photo of the burgers showing the melted cheese and the generous amount of onions, tomatoes and lettuce. The fries shown in the photo belie just how large the large serving was (It's about as much as 4 large fries at the local McDonald's back in Manila.).

The Clairvoyant agrees to show just how big the burger is. The patty itself is very satisfying and correctly deducing we won't be able to finish the two burgers, we sliced each in half. True enough, we were not able to finish the burgers and the fries and decided to put them away for breakfast the next day. The burgers still tasted great the next morning.

Friday, November 18, 2011


The University grants its faculty who are appointed to administrative posts a special type of leave, the so-called "re-energizing leave," recognizing the hectic schedules administrators usually have. It is practically a juggling act as administrator are still members of faculty and most have teaching loads despite the misleading load credits assigned to each for his/her admin post. In my case, being director of a center engaged in research and extension work I am given 6 units of admin load. Since the standard is 12 units of load (most if not all being teaching credits if the faculty member has no other appointments), I can teach a couple of subjects during the semester to get 6 more units. This practically deprives me of having research load credits despite The reason for this is what seems to be a general rule wherein overload credits are not allowed due to the costs (overload pay) borne by the university for something that could already be compensated by honoraria or similar fees incorporated in the budgets of research projects. Still, I would like to think that being a faculty member at a university such as UP should require that person to do research work and publish and/or present his/her results in reputable venues. And to encourage this, the person should be given incentives even in the form of a unit or two in recognition of such efforts for research.

Perhaps there should be a "burn-out" leave, too, considering many faculty members who are quite serious about their jobs as teachers at the university have to work so many hours to earn a decent income. Of course, there are those from the professional colleges who have sidelines or consultancies on the side that may be more financially rewarding than their university jobs. But many of these people, too, take their teaching and research quite seriously and often sacrifice projects for their commitments to the university. It is not surprising that given the hectic schedules, the various pressures and the ever-changing characters of students, certain faculty members might already be experiencing burn-out without them knowing it. It is a silent agent much like strokes and heart ailments whose manifestations are quite similar to other illnesses thus leading to misdiagnosis.

For now, I take the re-energizing leave that I am granted by the university. It is something that I have looked forward to after all these months - a welcome change in environment from the toxic one that is no different from a rat race (to use a term a good friend employed years back before deciding to migrate to the US to join his wife and family). Unfortunately, for rat races, the winner still emerges as a rat! This re-energizing leave should serve as detoxification and hopefully provide enough for the homestretch before my sabbatical next year. I can already see the smile on the face of the Clairvoyant as she reads through this.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Foggy day in Diliman

I was greeted by a pleasant surprise as I turned towards Katipunan this morning. There was a fog over this part of Quezon City. I took the opportunity to take a few photos for posterity. For all the years I've been with UP from the time when I was a student in the late 1980's to the present, I wasn't really able to capture in the form of photos the fogs on campus.

The high-rise condo of a major retail chain is obscured by the fog.

The Balara area looked so serene with few vehicles on the road and the fog in the background lending a soft touch to surroundings.

The Sunken Garden catches a good amount of the fog and makes the field feel surrealistic when combined with the soft light of the sunrise.

I hope the fog's composition isn't dominated by pollutants (these days I doubt it isn't). I can imagine the runners feasting on the cool environment of the UP Diliman campus but I pity them for ingesting all that bad stuff in the air these days.

The Academic Oval was zero visibility earlier this morning, the security guards told me when I arrived at the office.

Melchor, Palma, Benitez and Malcom Halls should have a feel of nostalgia about them with the fog. I guess these buildings have witnessed a lot of this phenomena since the time UP moved to Diliman.

There is evidence that the whole campus was enveloped by fog this morning. A friend posted a remark that it felt as if the campus were in Baguio City, high up in the mountains. But then again, this part of Quezon City is elevated including Ateneo, which is on a ridge.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Passing the blame for our traffic mess

We like to bash and criticize public transport drivers for their behavior when we only need to look in the mirror to see who is part of the traffic problem in this country. A lot of private car drivers here and elsewhere in the country tend to attribute traffic congestion to buses, jeepneys, AUVs and taxis while practically washing their hands off the congestion and reckless driving habits that we see everyday along Philippine highways and streets. Many tend to think that only PUV drivers are to blame for our traffic mess when in reality and data-wise there are surely more private traffic on our roads compared with public. Such statistics including mode shares for both vehicular and person trips along major corridors in Metro Manila I will share in another post.

I drive from my home to the office and back almost everyday and I have observed driving behavior for much of my life including the times when I’m in cities in other countries. PUV drivers to me are more predictable than private car drivers in this country. In fact, we can know for sure that PUV drivers will weave their vehicles in traffic and we will always brace ourselves for the aggressive driving every time we encounter PUVs. Such errant behavior, of course, could have been addressed by a stricter and more reliable licensing system for drivers. But that’s another story altogether that’s worth an entire article.

Meanwhile, I share the observation of one friend that many SUV or high-end vehicle drivers “tend to drive like outlaws.” I had articulated in an interview before that many young drivers (and older ones as well) tend to imagine themselves as race car drivers – and proceed by trying to out-speed and/or out-maneuver other drivers the way stuntmen do in the movies. This you can observe whether along a congested street or a free flowing expressway. Evidence to this includes all the road crashes involving private vehicles (including motorcycles) that would certainly out-number those involving PUVs. One thing not going for the PUVsm, however, is that they happen to carry more passengers and therefore more responsibility as a requirement of their being issued franchises. Another proof to irresponsible behavior are postings of claims and photos on social media showing speedometers exceeding speed limits. And yes, there are those who routinely and consciously violate speed limits along expressways for them to be captured by speed cameras. The shots are then used as bragging rights attesting to the driver reaching a certain speed with his/her vehicle.

This morning, I almost got sideswiped by a car who cut my path to make an abrupt right turn to enter the gate of a major private university. I thought I had a clear path to change lanes as I estimated a good distance from the same vehicle who was trailing me on the other lane. Instead, the vehicle accelerated and with horns blaring asserted his right to the lane. I had to use my defensive driving skills to avert a collision. Seconds later, he was blocking my path as he made a right turn at the university’s gate. I could only shake my head in frustration with what happened while an MMDA enforcer looked helplessly as a witness to the incident. A few minutes later, a couple of SUVs coming from a posh subdivision along Katipunan cut our path to make an illegal left turn at a U-turn slot. Vehicles from this subdivision do so regularly and with impunity as if their passengers were more blessed and more important persons than the rest using this major highway.

The examples above are just some of what we usually encounter everyday while traveling or during our regular commutes. These are certainly being caught on video by the MMDA cameras spread out and observing traffic along major roads in Metro Manila. These same drivers might be the first to throw the proverbial stone to their fellow drivers whom they have judged to have committed sins of recklessness when the truth is that they themselves are guilty and only have to look in the mirror to see for themselves who are really to blame for our dangerous and congested roads. Truly, what’s wrong with traffic in this country may not necessarily be with the way we manage traffic or enforce rules and regulations. It might just be the nut behind the wheel that’s defective, after all.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Clairvoyant Art

No, the title of this post is not so strange. It actually refers to artwork by the Clairvoyant. Yes, the Clairvoyant paints but it's been a long time since she did so and seriously. The last time I remember she did finish a piece we were still dating prior to getting engaged. She does a lot of sketches and has a number of sketchpads/drawing pads already filled with what some people will call studies. Following are two photos of her work. These do not do justice to the paintings because of the poor quality of the photography. I will most probably redo some photos when I get the chance and have better conditions for taking pictures.

Scene in Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto, Japan (Watercolor on paper, Dec. 1999) This was derived from a photo of me with the same background that I sent to the Clairvoyant when I was still in Japan. It is one of my favorites because of the colors of autumn that I thought was perfectly shown in the photo. The Clairvoyant worked on this secretly and gave it to me as a gift a few months after we first met in person.

Scene in Singapore Botanical Park (Acrylic on canvass, Nov. 2011) This is her latest piece, which I can say is much more impressive than what is shown in the photo. I sort of had a preview of this from photos sent by the Clairvoyant after her exploration of the park with friends a few months ago.

From what I gather, the Clairvoyant is conceptualizing her next project and she had told me that she wants to try having humans or the human form as her subject. Perhaps a scene in the MRT trains or stations is in the works? Abangan!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sizzling again

At the mall again last weekend for some errands, I decided to see another film but this time I chose a comedy flick with Ben Stiller as the lead actor. At least I knew what to expect even if I haven't known about the film prior to my mall trip. After purchasing my ticket, I found myself with an hour to spare before the screening and so I decided to take a look at my lunch options. I already decided against going to the ground floor where most of the restaurants were. If I had more than an hour, I would have opted to go for Teriyaki Boy or Pancake House, the old reliables for me and the Clairvoyant. I was even thinking going to The Old Spaghetti House or perhaps Max's but I didn't feel like going for pasta and the fried chicken restaurant I knew was always full. I considered taking out a Hungarian sandwich from Wham but instead found myself attracted to the Food Court where I figured I could just take my meal sitting down instead of inside the theater. Surprisingly, there were few people at the Food Court so I made the decision to go for it and ended up, again, in front of Sizzling Plate. It was an easy decision and, like the movie I was to see in about 45 minutes, I knew what to expect from Sizzling Plate.

Selections at Sizzling Plate - this was actually a stolen shot as I was a little embarrassed to train my BlackBerry for a better shot of the selections

Tenderloin steak and four seasons - the steak, of course, looks nothing like the ones usually served in the finer restaurants. I could have gone to Pancake House or Burgoo's for steak but I knew I would probably be so full I would be uncomfortable watching a movie later on. Also, steaks at these restaurants would certainly be much more expensive than the "poor man's" version over at Sizzling Plate. The meat was tender and the gravy just the way I remembered it to be. No surprises, just a no frills lunch on a lazy weekend at a mall.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Respect for our National Anthem

I have observed that a lot of people no longer stand or stop what they are doing whenever the Philippine National Anthem is played in public. This is the case whether indoors or outdoors with the obvious exceptions of flag ceremonies in offices and schools, and the formal openings of programs like conferences.

The anthem is usually played in public places like malls and parks. At malls, the anthem is commonly played prior to the establishments' opening their doors to customers. It is also played prior to the first screening of films at theaters or cinemas. In these situations, one will find that a lot of people now tend to not mind the anthem and just go about what they were doing. I would understand this if this were about the orasyon or the Angelus since many people are not Catholics. However, this is the national anthem here and it is not as if we hear this played all the time and much has been written about how it is to be sung or played. For the last, there is actually a law stating how the Lupang Hinirang was to be sung and played (i.e., it is a march and NOT a ballad, pop or rock song).

It is said that big things start with the smaller ones and how do we expect to make this country into a big-time thing if we couldn't even make ourselves stand to show respect to our own national anthem. We look at other countries and we always state or express how we envy the people of the likes of Germany, Japan or Thailand for being able to preserve their culture, customs and traditions. We say "mabuti pa sila" when we cannot even make ourselves follow simple instructions or honor the most basic aspects of our being Filipino.

I appreciate the parents I saw at a cinema who asked their children to stand while the anthem played. I believe they are teaching their children to become responsible citizens of this country. If only for their example, perhaps it is not yet too late for this country to realize it has to start with the basics if it wants to get to the big stage.


Friday, November 4, 2011

Swiss Vieux Chalet

I stumbled into some old photos taken with a cell phone I lost more than a year ago. Among the photos was one featuring dessert at the Swiss Vieux Chalet restaurant in Antipolo. It is a 20 to 30-minute drive from our home depending on the traffic and is almost always part of our itinerary when we go to Antipolo Church, Pinto Gallery or any other destination in the area. In most visits our objective is simply to have lunch at the restaurant.

Smoked Pork Chops with creamy mushroom sauce

Swiss Vieux Chalet's homemade ice cream topped with strawberry slices

I personally like the Smoked Pork Chop with mushroom sauce that is served with herbed rice. The Clairvoyant usually tries their seafood or pasta, particularly the Fish Fillet in White Wine Sauce or the Spinach Ravioli. We usually order Raclette or Pate de Foie for appetizer(s). Their pizzas are also quite good and we usually get the house special or the Five Cheese. For drinks, the lemon-grass cooler works quite well with anything. So far we haven't had any disappointments with whatever we've ordered at the restaurant. 

For more information about Swiss Vieux Chalet, one can browse their website or go to their Multiply page where one can find their menu for advance browsing. Also, be reminded to first make reservations as they are usually full and have few tables for walk-ins. Of course, if one is a regular patron, trust their head waiter, Rico, to remember you and make sure you get a table if not courteously advise you of the unavailability of one.

Vieux Chalet Swiss Restaurant, Taktak Road, Antipolo City, Rizal /  Tel: (02) 697-0396

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Cabatuan Cemetery and Mortuary Chapel

I thought it was most appropriate to feature the cemetery at my father's hometown of Cabatuan, Iloilo. Many of our relatives are interred in this cemetery with my Lola's tomb located just across from the east side of the chapel. With her now lies the remains of some of my aunts as well as the grandfather I never came to know. A history of the town and the church may be found at the Cabatuan.com website. The LGU's website doesn't contain much info nor any good photos pertaining to the town's heritage. Good for us who are not there that there are good folks who made the effort to have such information online.

Main gate of the Cabatuan cemetery

Founded in the late 1800's by the Augustinians, the cemetery's old mortuary chapel is found just down the path from the gate. There are 2 other gates to the cemetery looking just like this gate. A more detailed history of the Church in Cabatuan including old photos and documents may be found at the same website I mentioned. The same site also has a feature on the cemetery and the chapel.

I used to have a lot of photos of the cemetery and the surrounding areas. Unfortunately again, I lost most of these to the great flood of 2009. We do have one framed photo of the cemetery with a perfect view of the chapel from the gate. This was taken by a partner in the first law firm the Clairvoyant joined after she passed the bar exams of 1999. His wife was also from Iloilo and among his hobbies were photography. He was quite good and dabbled in journalistic shots. We received a nice set of black and white photos he took during our wedding. A copy of the framed photo may be found below. Note that some images in the photo are the result of reflections when I took a photo of the frame. They are not the outcomes of any supernatural phenomena.

Mortuary chapel of Cabatuan as seen from the cemetery main gate

The space just before the chapel used to be occupied by the tomb of the late Tomas Confesor, perhaps the most well know of Cabatuan's sons and daughters. The tomb was moved many years ago and now there are much more greens in the cemetery, bringing more life in an area that, despite being identified with death, should reflect a celebration of life. Today, All Saints' Day, the living will surely flock to the cemetery to pray for and remember those who passed away before our time.

Other good references online that I found about the cemetery are the ones by the Heritage Conservation Society and the one by Valerie Caulin, a freelance writer.